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Merkel and Erdoğan to Meet in Brussels Amid Worsening Relations

By Michael Hornsby, Berlin

Angela Merkel’s spokesperson indicated on Wednesday that the German Chancellor would meet with Turkey’s President Erdoğan on the sidelines of today’s NATO summit in Brussels. If it goes ahead, the meeting would take place against a backdrop of severely strained relations between the two countries.

The extent of two countries’ military cooperation as NATO allies is currently under review. Last week, Merkel confirmed that Germany is considering moving its troops from the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey. This came in response to Ankara blocking a German parliamentary delegation from visiting troops stationed at the base. Earlier, Germany had granted asylum to Turkish military and diplomatic staff who fear being arrested in Erdoğan’s wide-reaching post-coup-attempt crackdown. Germany has some 270 military personnel stationed at Incirlik, where six German Tornado reconnaissance planes and a refueling aircraft are engaged in coalition efforts against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

On Friday, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen visited the Al Arzaq air base in Jordan, while in the country for a meeting of the World Economic Forum. Von der Leyen said that her first impressions of the base were positive and that she planned to discuss further steps with King Abdullah II of Jordan. Von der Leyen added that “The cost of the organization would certainly be enormous if, after a failure of the negotiations with Turkey, a deduction of the contingent from Incirlik became necessary.” Germany has earmarked 58 million Euros for infrastructure development at Incirlik, indicating that resources to finance a move to another base in the region may be available.

In a press conference yesterday,  President Erdoğan said that if the Germans leave Incirlik “It isn’t really an important problem for us, if they go, we’ll say ‘bye bye’, that’s all”. His remarks echoed the words of Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoğlu, who had previously told NTV, a Turkish news channel, “we aren’t going to beg” the Germans to stay.

In an apparently separate development on Wednesday, a group of German parliamentarians canceled a planned trip to Turkey at the last minute, citing a lack of political will on the Turkish side.

According to the Associated Press,  Deputy speaker Claudia Roth was to head a cross-party delegation on a May 25-28 visit to Ankara, Diyarbakir and Istanbul for meetings with officials, lawmakers and non-government groups. The group included the head of the German parliament’s human rights committee.

“Yesterday we received the information that it is currently not considered opportune at the very, very, very highest Turkish level to conduct political talks with the German parliamentary side in Turkey,” Roth, of the opposition Greens, told reporters in Berlin. She described the incident as a “political provocation.”

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said Turkey’s deputy foreign minister informed his German counterpart Monday evening that the visit couldn’t go ahead. The Turkish official cited “a domestic political situation in Turkey that wasn’t conducive” to the trip, Schaefer added.

Germany’s ambassador to Turkey says that he can’t recall “such a friendly and dialogue-oriented visit by a group of German lawmakers being so rudely and bluntly rejected,” Schaefer said.

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